May 21, 2019

Why I write about what not to eat

I have received 3-4 DMs in the past few days asking me to prescribe diet plans for weight loss. And there's one more question which I'm often asked is "Why do you always talk about what not to eat? Why can't you write about foods to eat? Why not talk about healthy packaged foods?"

Since all these questions are related, I thought I would address them as a post.

First and foremost, let's NOT ask random strangers on social media for weight loss diet plans. I believe that diet plans SHOULD only be recommended by qualified medical professionals. These days, a person loses 5 kgs and becomes a fitness influencer. As I wrote earlier, someone who does a nutrition course in Coursera calls himself/herself a certified nutritionist. So let's be extremely cautious of such people who are sprouting on Instagram all the time and not fall for the flat-abs/skin show that they unabashedly "curate" on their feed.

Yes, we can take inspiration from people whose posts/thoughts resonate with us. But we cannot BECOME them. Let's appreciate our individuality and choose foods/diet plans based on what works for us. 

Choosing what to eat is completely up to you, based on numerous factors - your genes, your native cuisine, where you live, foods that agree with your palate and tummy etc. 

I try to post at least one meal pic of mine on Insta on a daily basis. My intention is to spread awareness on the importance of eating fresh, local and traditional foods. Millets, indigenous rice, local veggies and traditional recipes feature regularly in my diet. I'm a South Indian and so my weekly meal plan looks approximately like this - 80% South Indian cuisine, 10-15% North Indian cuisine and 5-10% Non-Indian (pasta, pizza, soups etc). 

Choosing what to eat is quite simple, in my opinion. Eating fresh, homecooked, local, traditional and seasonal - this is the mantra I believe in.

Choosing what to NOT eat is becoming a complex task these days, given the numerous junk-masquerading-as-healthy options prevailing in the market. Also, a crucial part of eating right is NOT to add more and more new foods to our diet, but removing the wrong foods from our diet. Something I spoke about in detail in this post.

"Healthy packaged" foods is an OXYMORON. It is like finding a needle in a haystack. Having analyzed numerous packaged foods available in the Indian supermarkets, I couldn't find any so far. There are small/upcoming brands that are coming up with healthier options, but compared to food corporations, these small brands don't yet have the distribution or production capacities to meet consumer demands at scale. 

There are MANY who write about what to eat, but there's hardly anyone who writes about what NOT to eat. I stopped eating all forms of packaged/junk foods for the past 5-6 years. And this ONE change has brought in a lot of positive effects on my health. And my goal is to spread this message - first eliminate all processed/packaged/junk foods from your diet, then choose foods based on what you believe is healthy.


May 19, 2019

The lost practice of do-nothing


I have been pondering about this topic for the past few weeks, mainly fueled by the books I have read and the people I have met over the past 2 months. 

In Apr, I read this amazing book "Digital minimalism" by Cal Newport, where the chapter on solitude and contemplation left me speechless. I could relate to that chapter so much as I'm someone who keeps jumping from one thing to another all the time. There were hardly any minutes during my day where I did "NOTHING".  I deprived myself of solitude through various distractions. 

Cal defines solitude as


"a subjective state in which your mind is free from input from other minds."

"Being alone with our own thoughts" used to be possible every day around 12-15 years back, while we are waiting in a queue, walking to a nearby store, taking public transport or taking a leisurely stroll in a park. Many times, I have been able to get new ideas/solutions to problems I have been working on while taking a shower or while I cook. 
How much time are we allocating in a day to be with our own thoughts without any devices these days?

When I decided to cut down my smartphone usage after reading Digital Minimalism, I was hoping that I would savor those "do-nothing" moments. But I took to reading big time and all the free times in between my daily responsibilities went to reading new books. Nothing wrong in reading as a habit, for it has given me opportunities to read some interesting books lately. But it is also a form of "Consumption", where we are engrossed in the opinions and thoughts of the authors ("inputs from other minds").

In "The One-Straw Revolution", Masanobu Fukuoka writes,


"Originally people would look into a starry night sky and feel awe at the vastness of the universe. Now questions of time and space are left entirely to the consideration of scientists"


How true this statement is! While in college days, I used to lie down on the terrace floor and just look at the night sky, feel the gentle summer breeze, stare at the moon and think about nothing. I haven't done this for many years now.

I'm sure it is not just our generation who has lost this habit of do-nothing. I see many family members from my previous generation who are hooked onto TV big time. The TV has to be running in the background the whole day. For some reason, it keeps them calm is what I hear. If it is the TV that ruined it for our parents, it is our smartphones, Internet, TV, iPads, books, Kindle, video games etc for our generation and our children's. Yes, it is becoming worse as days pass by.

As I was attending a session on "decoding present-day economics" yesterday, the topic of discussion was about materialistic consumption. As we were watching the documentary "The century of the self", this particular passage caught my attention.

The words of Paul Mazur, a leading Wall Street banker working for Lehman Brothers in 1927, are cited: "We must shift America from a needs- to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. [...] Man's desires must overshadow his needs..."

 
One of the reasons why large economies push for over-consumption in people's minds is that it helps to keep people docile and not question anything. This is such a relevant point in today's times. We slog during weekdays and indulge in mindless consumption during weekends. 

Last weekend, we went to see a children's movie in a multiplex. Let me state upfront - we don't go for movies in a movie theatre often, this is a rare family outing. The overall experience left me shell shocked - a movie experience for a family of 3 costs around Rs.2000. A cup of coffee was Rs.160 which tasted yuck and so unpalatable. Both my husband and I discussed about these mall expenses and decided such movie outings are totally not worth our hard-earned money. 

On the other hand, we had been to a nearby small restaurant yesterday where a small glass of coffee that costs Rs.10 tasted so good and fresh.

 I'm digressing here, but as you can see, it is easy to indulge in mindless consumption these days - the ones that cost us money (materialistic) and/or time (devices, social media etc). Such consumption is only making us docile and not allowing us any time or mind space to question anything around us.

We don't ask any questions about why things are the way they are. Why do we buy so many things? Why do we spend so much during weekends? How is our consumption impacting others, other living beings and our planet? Why are we hoarding many things at our home? Why are we okay with spending for a popup "curated" meal experience that costs Rs.3000 per person per meal? Why do we buy so much junk foods? Why are we not reading food labels? Why do we support fast fashion?

I don't have answers, but what I'm realizing is that I need to invest time doing nothing. It is easier said than done, but will consciously make efforts towards it. Hopefully, I might find answers to these questions during those moments of solitude.

Sources:

May 17, 2019

Horlicks Protein Plus No added sugar review


 A famous blogger who claimed that the secret of her energy was Saffola Fittify hi-protein meal shake a few weeks back now has shifted her loyalties to Horlicks Protein Plus. Earlier I used to find such promotional posts irritating but now I find them so funny and entertaining. How quickly they switch brands with no hesitation!! 😆😆😆 Do brands even have any contracts/agreements with Insta influencers? Do these contracts have a no-compete clause at all?

Anyway, let's focus on the product. I wanted to get the ingredients list but couldn't find it on Amazon or Bigbasket. I found the label on Flipkart. 



When a brand claims "no added sugar", the first thing we need to do is to check the ingredients for artificial sweeteners. As you might notice, it contains Acesulfame potassium. I have written about this ingredient in Women's Horlicks review. All artificial sweeteners have harmful side effects. 

This term "Contains added flavour" without any details need to be looked at as well. Why can't they explicitly state what the flavours are?

This protein shake/mix is just becoming a huge business. Let's not focus only on the protein quantity and ignore the rest of the ingredients.

Book Review: The One Straw Revolution by Masanobu Fukouka

 
 
This book was recommended to me by so many people. I purchased a copy last year but didn't make the time to read it. While reading Mansoor Khan's "The third curve", I noticed that he has mentioned this book in his list of recommendations. That was the "last straw" for me to pick up this brilliant book, which I managed to finish it in 3 days.

I'm starting to believe this statement - "When the reader is ready, the book appears."

Coming to this book, Masanobu Fukuoka talks about the perils of modern agriculture and why return to "do-nothing" / natural farming is the need of the hour. Simplistic, easy to relate, hard-hitting and brilliant writing that I was totally hooked onto this book for the past 3 days. Having been reading up about food and nutrition for the past 7 years, it is a natural transition for me to invest efforts in understanding where and how our food comes from. 

The author starts off with talking about his personal experiences in transitioning to natural farming, growing rice, clover and other grains in his farm. He diligently follows four principles of farming - no cultivation (no plowing of the soil), no chemical fertilizer or prepared compost, no weeding by using herbicides and no dependence on chemicals. For someone with no exposure to farming like me, the chapters that elaborate on these principles would be fascinating to read. 

The second half of the book emphasizes a lot about living in harmony with nature, growing crops according to the season and eating habits that focus on eating simple, local and wholesome foods. The questions the author keeps raising throughout the book related to food, industrial growth, ambition, education, sustainability etc are so impactful that your mind expands to see new horizons. 

Here are a few passages from the book that I liked:


"The consumer's willingness to pay high prices for food produced out of season has also contributed to the increased usage of artificial growing methods and chemicals"
"Until there is a reversal of the sense of values which cares more for size and appearance than for quality, there will be no solving the problem of food pollution."
"Produce grown in an unnatural way satisfies people's fleeting desires but weakens the human body and alters the body chemistry so that is dependent upon such foods."

Until a few years back, cauliflower used to be only available for 3-4 months in winter but it is now available throughout the year. There's hardly any taste whatsoever, but people continue to buy cauliflower as it is being considered a "low calorie" vegetable. The same applies to various fruits and vegetables these days.

The chapter on pricing natural foods was a revelation to me. I had always thought that growing natural foods is expensive and that's the reason for the premium pricing of organic foods. But the author provides a different view:


"Growing fruit without applying chemicals, using fertilizer or cultivating the soil involves less expense and the farmer's net profit is therefore higher."
"As for the consumer, the common belief has been that natural food should be expensive. If it is not expensive, people suspect that it is not natural food."

The lines I absolutely loved:

"If we do have a food crisis it will not be caused by the insufficiency of nature's productive power but by the extravagance of human desire."

"When a naive scientific knowledge becomes the basis of living, people come to live as if they are dependent only on starch, fats and protein, and plants on nitrogen, phosphorus and potash."

I'll stop here, as there are so many such powerful lines/phrases that I have underlined throughout the book.

If food interests you, then this is one book you shouldn't miss out.

May 10, 2019

Cipla Brain Boosters Review



Before our mommy bloggers start posting that their children are the next Einstein because of consuming these brain boosters every day, let me jump ahead and post my review.




The ingredients list look similar to Cipla's Immuno boosters (review posted here). The main promise of this brain boosters is that it contains the power of real almonds and Brahmi. Look at the minuscule percentages - 5% almonds and 0.7% Brahmi extract.




Each chocolate contains 3gm of sugar and harmful hydrogenated vegetable fats.

Children can get all the required vitamins and minerals from natural foods. As parents, it is our responsibility to introduce real foods and ensure they get access to natural, home-cooked foods every day. Let's not rely on such chocolates please!
We don't need to sugar coat everything.

Brands keep discovering new ways to sell junk. Let's be conscious of our choices.

May 7, 2019

Book Review: The Third Curve by Mansoor Khan

 
 
"Karma", "Fate", "Destiny" - whatever be the name, it feels like I was MEANT TO read this book. Before I write about the book, let me share a quick story of how I ended up buying it. A few weeks back, we were roaming around Brigade Road and stopped at Blossoms Book Store. I was browsing through books on the ground floor and selected a few to buy, while my husband was on the third floor, sitting and reading a book. He kept it back on the shelf and we were walking back to our car. While we were driving home, he said, "You know, I was reading this book. You might like it. I have heard the author speak at IIMB a few years back". I was curious about this book but didn't follow through. After a couple of weeks, I was around Brigade Road, attending a personal finance workshop. The core topic of the workshop was all about growth, high returns from mutual funds and how the markets have fared well in the past 2 decades etc. Though the workshop was informative, I was walking back with a lot of questions running on my mind - how can we make an assumption that the markets would give similar high returns in the next 2 decades, why aren't we factoring in other critical issues like environmental degradation, climate change etc? After having lunch at a restaurant nearby, I told my husband, "Let's go and check if the book you recommended to me is still available in Blossoms". Sure enough, it was there on the very same shelf where my husband had kept it. I didn't glance much but intuitively I felt it was the right book for me. After purchasing it, I realized it was a signed copy by the author himself. That's the beauty of a second hand book store - you might get such surprises!

Coming to the book, the author Mansoor Khan has dealt with a very important topic - that perpetual exponential growth is impossible with earth's finite resources. In the first few chapters of the book, he has explained about the industrial revolution, our extreme dependencies on oil and our constant expectations of exponential growth. The "Concept vs Reality" approach he has used to explain the context and unravel the problem was thought-provoking and easy to understand.

These two passages hit the nail on the head - 

"The Earth is not a huge, inanimate hunk of mud, rock, ores, minerals etc that can spew out resources at whatever rate we wish for human purpose alone. It is not to be viewed as a storehouse of resources for us to extract, loot and dispose of........The Earth in fact is a complex organism. It is as living as each of us."

"A crazy and unreal concept of Perpetual Exponential Quantitative Growth (PEQG) of money leads to chasing and looting half the planet's energy and resources, disrupting ecosystems, fraying social structures and corrupting moral integrity."


After setting the premise of how our expectations of PEQG is unrealistic, the author talks about how we have crossed the Global Peak of oil production around 2005 and it is downhill from thereafter. Given our exponential growth and high dependency on oil, we don't have much time left until the remaining available oil is used up. 

There have been quite a hue and cry over alternative energy sources in the past couple of decades, but the author has explained in detail about how each of the proposed alternative energy sources fails to meet the 5 energy rules. I admit I felt all gloomy and depressed, reading about the lack of alternatives.

But the chapter on Transition gave me hope and clarity. And I will refer to this chapter more often, as my thoughts and ideologies seem to align with the proposed solution.


"We have to now first personally believe that small is beautiful, less is good, local is important, community is strength, sharing itself is charity and diversity is paramount."


Well researched, hard-hitting, thorough analysis and at the same time, easy to understand, I highly recommend this book to all who want to understand the hard reality - that the way we are consuming planet's resources is not sustainable in the long run and we need to take corrective action NOW. Changing our light bulbs to CFL or buying "energy efficient" refrigerators won't make much of a difference.
 
This book is available as a free download on the author's website. Do check it out.



May 4, 2019

Protinex Lite Review


Products that were earlier launched for diabetics are slowly making entry into the mainstream, given that most of us are becoming health conscious and want to take preventive measures against lifestyle diseases like diabetes, blood pressure, thyroid issues, high cholesterol etc. Until 4-5 years back, artificial sweeteners were exclusively consumed by people with diabetes. But now, these artificial sweeteners are positioned for health-conscious, urban population, irrespective of whether we have diabetes or not. Many brands capitalize on this "fear factor" riding on the latest health fads. "High protein" seems to be the most popular fad these days.

What used to be a health drink for diabetics is now repositioned for the general population. As mentioned in the pack, Protinex Diabetes Care is now Protinex Lite.

Ingredients:
Skimmed milk powder,
Stabilizer [gum arabic [acacia gum]]
soya protein isolate,
maltodextrin,
corn flour,
soya fibre,
maize starch,
wheat bran,
stabilizer [guar gum],
vitamins [ascorbic acid, dl-alpha tocopheryl acetate, retinyl acetate, nicotinamide, ergocalciferol, calcium pantothenae, thiamine hydrochloride, pyridoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin, folic acid, d-biotin],
minerals [magnesium oxide, ferric pyrophosphate, zinc sulphate, cupric gluconate, potassium iodate, sodium molybdate, chromic chloride, sodium selenate], 
taurine
  1. This drink contains 30% protein. More than the quantity of protein (gms) in these protein drinks, we should be concerned about the source of protein - based on the ingredients, protein is from skimmed milk powder and soya protein isolate.
    1. As I had mentioned in my earlier post on meal replacement bar, more than 93% of soy planted in the United States is genetically modified. In India, only cotton is genetically modified as of now. Unless brands explicitly confirm that soy used is non-GMO or they mention that the source country of soy is India, I'm extremely skeptical of consuming soy products.
    2. Given that most commercial milk is adulterated and the cows raised in large-scale dairy farms are given antibiotics, growth hormones and what not, I don't consider "dairy products" procured from a commercial large-scale industry as a reliable nutrition source for protein (or calcium). I would urge all these protein supplement brands (that use skimmed milk powder/whey protein isolate/whey protein concentrate as their protein source) to first prove that their supplements are free from antibiotics/growth hormones residues.
  2. The second ingredient is gum arabic which is mainly used as a bulking agent. According to Noshly, a bulking agent is a filler substance that increases food bulk without increasing available energy value significantly. Gum arabic or acacia gum is a possible allergen, triggering asthma and skin rash. 
  3. There are so many unwanted ingredients such as maltodextrin, corn flour and maize starch. Many such protein drinks use maltodextrin, a starch-derived food additive that raises blood sugar levels rapidly. If we are neither extremely active nor participating in sports/athletics etc, then regular intake of maltodextrin may eventually lead to insulin resistance. 
The sugar-free claim might be true, as sugar (sucrose) is not present in the ingredients list. But there are other ingredients that have a high glycemic index, which are equally detrimental to our health like sugar. 

Protein is an important nutrient, no doubt. But I would rather get my dose of protein (vitamins and minerals too) from natural, plant-based sources than from such chemical concoctions. 


Mother's day is nearing. And I see many "mom bloggers" and "food influencers" promoting this pack, saying how their energy levels have spiked up by consuming this drink and how they are able to multitask and handle various responsibilities. Please, what a boatload of lies!  (I wanted to write a different phrase, but prefer to keep my blog space clean without any swear words). Social media la indha maadhiri promote panradhellaam periya responsibilityaa??

Fellow moms, eating simple, homecooked, real foods, being physically active, getting a good night's sleep and taking care of emotional self are the clear shot ways to boost one's energy levels. Please don't fall for such traps.


Apr 30, 2019

Britannia Nutrichoice Digestive Biscuits Review



I wasn't planning to write about this brand of digestive biscuits, given that I have already reviewed a few other brands (McVities, Parle Nutricrunch etc). But then I noticed a popular food blogger with a million followers, promoting Britannia Nutrichoice digestive biscuits as "healthy, high fibre, packed with whole wheat, nutritious etc". How irresponsible! The best part is that she adds honey in making a chocolate sauce and says that natural sweeteners are the best whereas the store bought chocolate sauce has added sugar. And then she proceeds to add 2 packs of Nutrichoice digestive biscuits to make a chocolate cake. What about the sugar and liquid glucose present in those biscuits, madam? 

I ran a poll on Instagram a couple of days back and asked my followers to pick the product review they would be interested to read next on my blog. Guess what the majority picked - Britannia Nutrichoice Digestive biscuits, of course!

The brand focuses on "high fibre" as its core promise. But let's look at the ingredients:
Refined wheat flour,
Whole wheat flour (20%),
Edible vegetable oil (palm),
Sugar,
Wheat bran (4.7%),
Liquid Glucose,
Milk Solids,
Maltodextrin,
Raising agents [503(ii), 500(ii)],
Iodised salt,
Emulsifiers (322, 471, 472e),
Malt extract,
Dough conditioner (223)

Contains Added flavours (Nature Identical and artificial flavoring substances (vanilla))
  1. Maida, palm oil and sugar feature in the top 4 ingredients. Though whole wheat flour is present, it is only 20%.
  2. 100 gms of these biscuits contain 14.5 gm of sugar (around 3.5 tsp of sugar) and 21 gm of unhealthy fats (around 5 tsp of fats)
  3. The source of fibre is added wheat bran but the fibre is not substantial enough to be called as "high fibre" biscuits. 100 gms of these biscuits (around 9 biscuits) contain ONLY 6 gm of dietary fibre.There are plenty of natural sources of fibre - 1 medium sized guava contain 5gm of dietary fibre, 50 gm of roasted channa contain 8gm of dietary fibre. Why eat such junk to get our daily dose of fibre?
  4. Though sugar is less as compared to other biscuits like Oreo/Parle-G, we need to check how much salt is added to balance the taste. Iodised salt is listed but the sodium levels are not mentioned in the nutrition facts table.
  5. Raising agents - 503(ii) => Ammonium hydrogen carbonate, 500(ii) => sodium hydrogen carbonate or which we commonly call, baking soda. I'm sure some of you might have heard this advice from your mom/grandmom in your household many years back - "Don't eat bajji/bonda in restaurants. They add soda and it will upset your tummy." We were earlier concerned about the pinch of soda used in bajji/bonda that we used to order occasionally from a restaurant. But now, most of the bakery products and packaged foods (bread, bun, cookies, biscuits) contain baking soda and we eat them on a DAILY BASIS.
  6. Emulsifiers used are 322 (lecithin), 471 (mono and diglycerides of fatty acids - glycerol monostearate, glycerol distearate), 472e (Diacetyltartaric and fatty acid esters of glycerol). All three of them are derived mainly from soya beans (as the pack shows vegetarian symbol). So there is a high chance that the raw material used could be genetically modified.
From my personal experience, what I have observed is that the digestive biscuits (irrespective of the brand) are quite addictive. They are being marketed as "healthy", "diabetic friendly", "wholewheat", "high fibre" etc but if we read the ingredients and nutrition facts, they are equally junk as compared to other biscuits in the market. 

P.S. As I'm typing this post sitting at my in-law's place in Chennai, my daughter who was next to me noticed that I'm writing about this brand. She slowly whispered in my ears, "Paatti/Thaatha have these biscuits. I saw this pack in their biscuit box. Why don't you give your presentation to them?".  I thought to myself, "Yeah, right! They are angry with me because I don't give you Horlicks, Complan, Britannia cake, cheese slices and what not. If people don't want to change their beliefs, there's no point in trying to change them."




Apr 28, 2019

The moral dilemma

Whenever something bothers me, I would like to explore that feeling further to see why I'm affected by it. I usually do this exploration through the process of journaling. If it is something personal, involving family or friends, I quickly jot down everything that is troubling me on top of my mind in a "note" in Evernote and delete that note right away. Whether it gives me an answer or not, this process definitely clears my mind.

If it is something that can be shared, it turns out as a post in my blog (where else) tagged under "Ramblings". So here's one issue that is bothering me a bit this evening. Read it at your own peril, share your thoughts/perspectives but without any snide remarks or harsh criticism, please.

I was at a bookstore this evening, perusing through books I want to read. As I was contemplating what books to buy, I couldn't help but check Amazon app for their respective prices. Most of the books in my wishlist are above Rs.500 MRP and the prices shown in Amazon were nearly Rs.150-200 less than what I would end up paying if I buy the same books from the bookstore. 

After spending around 30 minutes, I picked up a couple of books for my daughter, trying to comfort myself that I have still given some business to the physical book store. But I felt quite bad that I didn't buy any book from my wishlist.
  1. The price difference was something that I couldn't let go of. Rs.150-200 is still a worthy amount to me. It wasn't about Amazon but more about my price sensitivity.
  2. If price is such an important factor to me, then I would end up buying all my books ONLY from Amazon/Flipkart but not from a physical bookstore. And if everyone does the same, the small bookstores would eventually shut down. I so don't want that to happen. There are very few places in a city that I would like to spend my evenings in and one of them is certainly a bookstore.
     
Has anyone faced such a moral dilemma? How do you address such issues? Any word of advice/change of perspective you could offer?
Yes, there are regulations that are aimed at protecting small players but what can I as a price-sensitive individual do to maximize value but at the same time not end up trapped to a monopolistic player? 

As I was discussing this uncomfortable feeling with my husband, he brought out another interesting point - the time-value of reading a book. If I'm interested in a particular book, I should just pick it up then and there and start reading the same day. I'll be able to apply a few ideas from the book earlier than wait for the right time (read: SALE) to buy it from Amazon. I might lose interest in that book or the ideas in that book would no longer be relevant to me. It made a lot of sense but given my wish list is long, it is not easy for me to narrow down on one particular book ;-)

The solution that my mind is giving me after jotting down this post is that I should consider the additional Rs.150-200 as an "experience" cost that I'm paying the bookstore AND not for the value of the book per se. Hmm, maybe?

Apr 26, 2019

Book Review: The Wellness Sense by Om Swami

 
I usually go by recommendations when picking books to read but this time, it was different. I randomly picked up this book from the Kindle store and am so glad I did. 

Om Swami's The Wellness Sense gives a good overview on the basics of Ayurveda, living in tune with mother nature, the role of food in one's health and most importantly, role of our mental thoughts and emotions in modern-day ailments.

The book starts off with the basic premise:

"The health of an individual is not just the state of his physical body but an aggregate of the body, senses, mind and soul. Your immune system is directly impacted by your state of mind. The more positive and happy you are, the stronger your immunity."

The author stresses the importance of mental and emotional health throughout the book.

"How you respond to what life throws at you affects your health in the most significant manner. The way you look at anything and the manner in which you accept or reject are the two most important - if not the only - factors that determine your overall well-being."

On absorption of food and its close relationship with our mental health, I loved this particular passage

"Your physical health is almost entirely dependent on how your body accepts and processes food, which in turn is affected by your mental and emotional state. The body is not just a mechanical machine, for if it were, all stomachs would process food exactly the same way."

The first 3 chapters are similar to that of any Ayurveda focused book - where the author explains about five elements, seven dhatus, our constitution/three doshas and the importance of balance. These might be a good revision if you have already read a few Ayurveda books. 

What definitely needs to be stressed upon in today's age where a universal diet with fixed and calculated macro-nutrients is prescribed to everyone is this absolutely crucial point:

"In Ayurveda, nothing is absolute. The utility, value and effect of anything is relative. Hence the efficacy of its healing is dependent on the receiver, the time and the environment. Foods that may be good for you could be catastrophic for another person."
"Mental and physical exertion directly impact your energy flow. Further, other people's energy and the external environment can also impact your energy flow."

There were many takeaways for me, starting from Chapter 6.

"The energy of the food affects our energy. It has a significant influence on our physical, emotional and mental well-being."

The classification of foods into sattvic, rajasic and tamasic categories and their respective characteristics, impact on our body and mind were quite insightful. The chapter on eating sense - the art of choosing what, when, how and how much you put in your stomach is something that we all need to be more mindful about. It's not ONLY about WHAT foods to eat.

"A good sense of eating has five aspects, namely mindfulness, water, quantity, gratitude and time."

Apart from food, the book stresses a lot about negative emotions which according to the author "are unwholesome food for the mind." Mental detoxification techniques such as meditation, visualization, erasing psychic imprints (similar concept was covered in "The heartfulness way") and mindfulness are explained in detail. 

Physical cleansing techniques as prescribed in Ayurveda, the importance of fasting etc are also explained in easy-to-understand procedures.

This book will be a ready reckoner to understand wellness in a holistic way from the point of view of Ayurveda and Yoga. It is definitely worth owning a copy and referring to it often. Do check it out. The Kindle version is available for a price of Rs.79.



Apr 25, 2019

My favorite books

 
 I'm a minimalist when it comes to clothes, jewelry, shoes, bags etc.  But I can't say the same when it comes to books. I invest a good amount of money on books every year. I believe that a single idea or an "aha-moment" can change our lives forever. Such ideas or inspirations can come from interacting with people from different walks of life, which is definitely THE best option. But as I said in my previous post, I need to make time for meeting new people and having conversations that elevate my current thinking models. Given the various constraints (both within and external), books seem to be the second best option.

Every few months, a book lands up on my lap and creates such an impact that I wonder why I didn't read it earlier.

On the occasion of World Book Day (Apr 23rd), here is my list of favorite books in no particular order (well, except the first!).
  1. Harry Potter series (Yes, right at the top always!)
  2. All books of RK Narayan
  3. All books of Ruskin Bond, the latest favorite being "A book of simple living"
  4. Six thinking hats by Edward Debono
  5. New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
  6. Ikigai by Hector Garcia
  7. The Gita for children by Roopa Pai
  8. Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
  9. Deep Work by Cal Newport
  10. Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport
  11. Start with Why by Simon Senek
  12. Drive by Daniel Pink
  13. Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
  14. Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
  15. Aaraam Thinai by Dr. Sivaraman (Tamil)
  16. The leader who had no title by Robin Sharma
  17. Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom
  18. The last lecture by Randy Pausch
I'd love to know your list of favorite books. Do share in the comments below.

Apr 24, 2019

Conversations vs Connections


Ever since I read Cal Newport's Digital minimalism, I have reduced my phone usage drastically. For the past 10 days, my usage is less than an hour per day, which is a significant reduction compared to my earlier usage of 3-4 hours. One of the most important takeaways from this book for me is that we have replaced real conversations with short bursts of interaction happening in social media. And the worst part is that we think this substitution is equal and we seem to be okay with it. I have been making this mistake and it felt like quite a revelation while reading the chapter on conversations vs connections.

As I sit quietly and contemplate, the reason why I'm active on Instagram is not that I like the "hearts" or I want more followers. Either of them doesn't motivate me to post or check my phone frequently. What I have realized is that I CRAVE for conversations. I get excited to see comments on my posts or DMs. In a typical day, I have most of my real conversations with my 7-year old daughter. There is hardly any opportunity to have deep conversations with my husband on a daily basis as work takes away most of his time.

When I used to go to a full-time job a few years back, there have been many opportunities of having deep conversations with colleagues, though mostly related to work. This is also one of the key factors that is pushing me to opt for a work-from-office role next instead of a work-from-home role. I'm HOPING to meet a few like-minded people and share meaningful conversations on topics I care about. Those topics definitely aren't about fancy cars, abroad trips, latest gadgets, investments, buying retirement homes, Keto diet, new fancy pubs/eateries in Bangalore etc. In one of my last work assignments, these were the common topics of discussion around the lunch table. I would sit there, feeling utterly bored.

What are the topics I care about, you might ask? Here's my list in no particular order:
Climate change
Zero-waste lifestyle
Mindfulness
Minimalism
Organic gardening
Non-fiction Books
Continuous learning
Productivity
Power of deep work and focus
Spirituality
Ethics and values in work
Nutrition, healthy eating but with unpopular opinions (No calorie counting, macros counting or any diet focused)
Traditional cuisines, embracing local produce
Mental wellness
Positive psychology
Yoga and meditation
Energy/prana and its role in healing
Do more with less
Behavioral psychology
Motivation theories - why we do what we do
Parenting - child nutrition, inculcating values
Music
Passive Income Generation
Results-oriented workplace
Technology that elevates people's lives

Sending out this note to the universe so I could get to meet people who have similar topics in their list. 


Apr 23, 2019

Britannia Nutrichoice Cracker Simply Lite Biscuits Review

 
 
These days, I spot this pack of crackers often in the shopping trolley of the person standing before me in the billing counter, especially if they are senior citizens. My sample size is too small to reach a conclusion but based on my observations, biscuits feature significantly in the diets of senior citizens these days, irrespective of their health ailments.

The pack quotes all the right phrases to capture today's urban consumers - sugar-free, honestly good biscuit, no added artificial colors or flavors, zero transfat etc.

Let's look at the ingredients list:
Refined wheat flour (91%)
Edible Vegetable Oil (Palm),
Yeast,
Iodised Salt,
Raising agent [503(ii)]
Milk Solids
Emulsifier (472e)
Improver (1102)
 
  1. The first ingredient is maida which constitutes a whopping 91%. Dietary fibre is not even mentioned in the Nutrition Facts table. Such highly refined/processed foods are NO good for any age group.
  2. There is no SUGAR listed in the ingredients. There is no artificial sweetener either. The "sugar-free" claim seems to be fine BUT what about salt/sodium? If there is no sugar, there should be enough salt added to compensate for the lack of taste. Iodised salt is the fourth listed ingredient BUT sodium is not mentioned in the Nutrition Facts table. 
  3. The fat content in these lite cracker biscuits is relatively low (16%) as compared to digestive biscuits (21% in Nutrichoice Digestive). Irrespective of the quantity of the fats, we should be concerned about the source of fats used - palm oil, which is unhealthy for our body as well as for our planet.
  4. The other artificial additives in the form of raising agent, emulsifier and improver are present in these "honestly good" biscuits.
I have noticed that many senior citizens avoid fruits and veg salads with the reason that they won't be able to bite them but are happy to indulge in similar such biscuits (and other crunchy, packaged snacks). And the irony is that they take artificial fibre supplements every night to avoid constipation related issues. My personal experience - It is easier to convince kids and help them understand the perils of junk food than to convince senior citizens about the harmful effects of biscuits and "health drinks".

As I keep reiterating, it is okay to indulge in ANY junk food once in a while but what we should be most concerned are the "habitual" foods - the ONEs we consume every day. Biscuits are one among the top habitual foods in many households. Let's be mindful of the ingredients in ALL "health" biscuits.

Apr 20, 2019

Book Review: Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport

 
 
Having loved Cal Newport's earlier books - Deep work and So good they can't ignore you, I was awaiting the release of his latest book, which is based on a topic of interest to me - Digital Minimalism. It was such an amazing read and certainly life-changing in many ways. Absolutely well written, thought-provoking and so relevant for our generation who lead a connected life 24*7. 

I had already shared my personal views on why I'm embracing digital minimalism. Will continue to share more on the practices I'm putting in place going forward.

Coming back to the book, in Part I, Cal Newport in his typical style sets the context so beautifully on why our current relationship with technology is unsustainable. He highlights many reasons on how certain platforms are exploiting our psychological vulnerabilities, leading to behavioral addictions. He has also expanded on this context with relevant examples and case studies from the past 2 decades - the entry of iPhone, the rise of FB and other social media platforms and the widespread adoption of smartphones. Some of the comparisons he brought out are so powerful - smartphone resembling a slot machine where we keep trying our luck to see what we get, checking for "likes" is equivalent to addiction etc. 

The chapter on how tech companies encourage behavioral addictions was brilliant, where he talks about intermittent positive reinforcement and the drive for social appeal (Pages 17-24). I'm sure all of us who are active on social media will be able to relate to these reasons.

Many of us have tried various tips and tricks under the sleeve to control our social media use or smartphone use in general. But Cal emphasizes the importance of identifying our "philosophy of technology use". He had also written about the same in Deep Work. 

As a first step, he proposes going on a 30-day digital declutter, where he suggests that we take a break from optional technologies in our lives and engage in activities that are meaningful and satisfying. After the 30-day period, we reintroduce the optional technologies slowly, based on how it adds value to our goals. 

In Part II of the book, he explains certain practices that are so important in leading a meaningful life outside our smartphones. The first practice he recommends was to embrace solitude and spend time alone with our thoughts. This is one of my favorite chapters, mainly because of the fact that our generation hasn't valued the importance of solitude. We check our smartphone or engage ourselves in some activity or the other "as a knee jerk response to boredom".

The second practice on "conversations vs connections" is also extremely crucial for us. We tend to believe that we can replace real conversations (in-person or call) with casual texts/likes/comments etc through social media or texting apps. But Cal reiterates that humans are wired to be social BUT not through social media.

This book doesn't advocate abstinence from social media or anti-technology; rather the author emphasizes on adopting technology with intention and using social media as a support/enabler for actual conversations.

My most favorite passage in this book 

"The human brain has evolved to process the flood of information generated by face-to-face interactions. To replace this rich flow with a single bit (in reference to LIKE) is the ultimate insult to our social processing machinery. To say it's like driving a Ferrari under the speed limit is an understatement; the better simile is towing a Ferrari behind a mule."

Finally, Cal recommends the importance of high-quality leisure in our day-to-day routines. This chapter talks about identifying our offline leisure activities - craft where we use our own hands to create something valuable. 

If you hang onto your smartphone for every fleeting moment of boredom, I assure you - this book will change your life. Go for it without a second thought and thank me later - in person or via a phone call ;-)


Apr 13, 2019

Why I'm embracing digital minimalism

I'm currently reading Cal Newport's Digital Minimalism. Halfway through the book, I'm just blown away - too many "aha" moments, evoking so many emotions as I'm nodding my head and underlining powerful lines in every single page. Will do a detailed review once I finish reading the book. As I was reading, many thoughts came gushing from the top of my mind on why digital minimalism is important to me. 

Cal Newport's earlier book "Deep work" had made such a huge impact on me when I read it in 2017. Since then, I have taken multiple breaks from social media and I have also realized that I'm not as addicted as I thought to be. One of the powerful takeaways for me was to set an intention for every technology we use - why am I using it? How is it aligned to my goals?

Since then, I realized my goals for using social media were related to spreading awareness about healthy eating, food and nutrition and also share my perspectives on topics that are important to me - productivity, parenting, writing, learning etc. I stopped posting personal updates on social media - vacation pictures, important events like birthday/anniversary, funny memes, forwards etc. I uninstalled FB and Twitter apps from my phone and access these accounts only when I'm in front of my laptop. My time spent in these two social media platforms had come down a lot in the past two years. But I had also started to spend a lot more time on Instagram around the same time. I was convincing myself that I have found like-minded people and have made friends through this platform. Though the posts I was posting and the people whom I'm connecting with through this platform tie closely to my goals, it certainly doesn't justify the ridiculous amount of time I had been spending on it. I do take Insta breaks often by uninstalling the app from my phone for a few days. Surprisingly during such breaks, I don't feel fidgety or seem to miss it much.

Let me admit, my 7-year old daughter D had told me a couple of times, "Why are you seeing your phone always?", "Are you in love with your phone?". It felt like a tight slap and I knew I needed to do something to reduce my phone usage. I installed an app to measure my phone use timings and I learned that I use my phone 2-3 hours per day on an average. The main concern is that the phone use has been staggered throughout the day, which explains the 50-60 times screen unlocks per day.

I do believe that deep, focused work is extremely important to get anything worthwhile accomplished. Whenever I'm working on my blog posts, I'm completely in FLOW - I can sit for 2-3 hours at a stretch without getting distracted and finish my posts. So I had to come up with ways to be in FLOW on activities that matter to me, apart from writing. 

When you seek something, a solution appears. I stumbled upon this app called Forest a few weeks back. You can set a timer whenever you are involved in something. During this time, you cannot use your phone. For each focused sitting, the app rewards you with a grown plant/tree (virtual of course!). If we check our phone while the tree is growing, it withers. What a great use of gamification! 

I decided to get D involved in this activity as well. We would sit together and read our books while the Forest app grows our plant during the time we are focused. She is super excited about this app and would pull me often during the day, "Come, let's use Forest app". Thanks to this app, I have been spending more time on reading these days.

I also realized that whenever I'm traveling, I hardly use my phone, except for clicking pictures. I'm engrossed in observing new places and surroundings. But when I'm at home, I mindlessly check my phone whenever a tiny flash of boredom strikes.

During our last vacation to Kerala a few days back, my husband and I were sitting in the balcony of our hotel room, admiring the beauty of nature all around and sipping chai one afternoon. I said to him, "It is so nice to sit here without our phones". He then asked me, "What did we used to do back in 2007-08 without our phones when we are on quiet vacation like this?". I replied, "We used to read a lot, go for walks or just sit idle". Such idle moments of nothing have become such a rarity these days.

Another experience that made me feel bad about how times have changed was during the same Kerala trip. We were waiting in KR Puram railway station one evening. I was so excited to be at the train station that day as I was traveling by train after a long time - the sight of trains arriving and departing at different platforms, vendors shouting "chai, chai", book shops selling magazines etc. Watching the hustle and bustle in an Indian train station is just so exciting and makes me quite nostalgic. Growing up in the 80s, train travels have always been very special. But when I looked around that evening, it made me feel sad to see a sight like this - everyone on their phones, some watching youtube, reading WhatsApp forwards, one of them watching a movie on Amazon Prime, all eyes hooked to their smartphones.

Addiction to phones/gadgets is quite similar to addiction to junk foods. Just like how junk foods are carefully designed with the right balance of sugar, salt, fats and other flavor enhancers which make them addictive, many apps that we use on our phones are carefully designed with the right reward mechanisms and continuous streams of validation that we seek because of our inherent psychological triggers.

Going forward, I'll share my progress on how I'm embracing digital minimalism. It is certainly the need of the hour to claim back our TIME - the ONE resource that is given equally to all of us on the planet.


Apr 12, 2019

RiteBite Max Protein Meal Replacement Bar Review

 
"Meal replacement" is the new buzzword these days. Meal replacement smoothies, meal replacement shakes, meal replacement soups etc. Breakfast bars and snack bars fall under this category too.

Recently, I spotted this "max protein replacement bar" from a brand called RiteBite in Namdharis supermarket. I can spend hours at Namdharis mainly because I find so many hip, junk-pretending-to-be-healthy products. 😉

The front side of the pack has all the right words to grab the attention of today's health conscious, time starved consumers.
Protein - 20 gm
Fiber - 5 gm
Vitamins - 21

But turn to the ingredients list and you'll know the real facts.

Ingredients
Protein Blend (soy nuggets, whey protein concentrate, soy concentrate, calcium caseinate),
Corn Syrup,
Edible Vegetable Oil,
Dietary fiber (wheat fiber, fructooligosaccharides)
Whole grain (rolled oats),
Almonds, Cashewnuts, Raisins, Cranberries
Yoghurt powder,
Honey,
Invert syrup,
Fructose,
Glycerin,
Flaxseeds,
Emulsifying agents (INS 322, INS 471)
Edible Gum (INS 412)
Salt
Citric Acid
Added vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and amino acids
Contains natural and nature identical flavors


  1. As you can see, various avatars of sugar are present - corn syrup, invert syrup, fructose etc. Each bar contains 11.4 gm of sugar (close to 3 tsp of sugar).
  2. The percentages of healthy ingredients like rolled oats, almonds, cashews, raisins, cranberries, flaxseeds etc are not mentioned. So I presume they are quite low.
  3. A pack containing ONE breakfast bar costs a whopping Rs.120. For the same price, we could easily buy more than a handful of nuts and dry fruits. Why eat a breakfast bar with unhealthy ingredients having a 9-month shelf life when you can eat a handful of nuts and dry fruits that are natural, containing proteins and healthy fats for the same price?
  4. Emulsifying agents - INS 322 (Soy Lecithins) and INS 471 (mono- and diglycerides of fatty acids (glycerol monostearate, glycerol distearate)) are being used. Soy lecithin being extracted from soy has a higher chance of being genetically modified. 
  5. Last but not the least, the source of protein is both from soy and dairy. These are my personal thoughts on these two ingredients.
    1. First let's focus on soy. More than 93% of soy planted in the United States is genetically modified. In India, only cotton is genetically modified as of now. Unless brands explicitly confirm that soy used is non-GMO or they mention that the source country of soy is India, I'm extremely skeptical of consuming soy products.
    2. As I had written in my earlier post, these are my thoughts on using dairy as a protein source. When milk is processed to form cheese, the remaining liquid is called whey. This liquid undergoes several processing steps and then dried to form a whey protein concentrate powder. Given that most commercial milk is adulterated and the cows raised in large-scale dairy farms are given antibiotics, growth hormones and what not, I don't consider "dairy products" procured from a commercial large-scale industry as a reliable nutrition source for protein (or calcium). I would urge all these protein supplement brands (that use whey protein isolate/concentrate as their protein source) to first prove that their supplements are free from antibiotics/growth hormones residues.
Even if you don't agree with me on the last point, I hope you would make a note of the sugar levels in such meal replacement bars that promise high protein. 

I believe we can get enough protein from plant-based sources, following a typical Indian balanced diet. I had compiled a list of plant-based protein sources, along with their protein values. Please do take a look.

If you still believe dairy to be the uber source of protein (and calcium), try to get organic milk that is free of antibiotics/growth hormones from a local dairy farm - the kind of milk that our grandparents used to procure.


Apr 4, 2019

Book Review: The Heartfulness Way

 
Things happen for a reason - I'm starting to believe this idea more and more these days. The people you meet on a random day can bring in new ideas or change of perspectives. This incident narrated below happened last October. I was traveling in a BMTC bus with my daughter D. An elderly lady was sitting next to us. She was reading a magazine titled "Heartfulness" and I was peeping to see what it was all about. Let me admit, I have this uncontrollable urge to find out what book/magazine someone is reading while at a public place (Anyone else does this?). Then she started talking and was telling me about a form of meditation and a book that has been translated into multiple languages. She also told me that there is a discount going on in Amazon for this book if I'm interested. As she was getting down at her stop, she turned to me and said, "We were meant to meet and I'm happy to have introduced this concept of meditation to you".

She didn't try to persuade me to buy this book. The conversation didn't sound sales-y. It felt genuine and I could sense a calmness around her. After we reached home that evening, I checked in Amazon and bought this book at a discounted price. The book arrived a few days later but I didn't start reading it immediately. It was happily lying on my bookshelf for a few months. 

Last Thursday, as we were about to leave for our Kerala mini-vacation, I quickly grabbed this book without a second thought and dumped it in my handbag, hoping I could read a few pages during the travel times. Little did I know that I would get so hooked to it that I ended up finishing the book in 2 days. 

The book "The Heartfulness Way" talks about a 3-step process that lets us connect within and feel the divine source through meditation. The 3-step process prescribed maps to the 8 stages of Ashtanga Yoga and I really liked the explanation given for each of these stages. I'm not going to elaborate on this process but what worked for me in this book is that there were many lines and passages that felt like they were written for me personally. Some of the lines were so relatable, that I was literally nodding my head, taking a pause, looking at the beautiful scenery all around me and absorbing the message.

A few lines that I really loved:

"Everything starts with the heart. When the heart is at peace, the mind is at rest. When the heart is content, the mind gains insight, clarity and wisdom. We often think that the heart and mind are two distinct entitities that are often in conflict with one another. In heartfulness meditation, we use the heart to regulate the mind, thus bringing them both into alignment."

"Meditation is not concentration. Concentration is forceful, while meditation is effortless, involving no force at all"

"Our thoughts, emotions and activities leave traces in the atmosphere. When entering any place, we resonate with what we feel there"

"If you spend your money wisely, then why would you need so much of it? When you truly value a resource, you want to make the very most of it. You conserve it"

"Sight is the most prominent sense. We tend to focus upon whatever we see, so closing the gate of sight helps us reorient our awareness inward"

"The greater a thought's emotional intensity, the stronger its subconscious influence"

"As we become more receptive to the voice of the conscience, we find that it holds us accountable for smaller and smaller matters. Even at the subtlest hint of a wrong thought, we find that the conscience pricks."
In today's world, we are reacting to each and every external stimulus. This has taken us so far away from realizing the divine source within. This book prescribes a spiritual process to look inward, that not only helps us to dive deep into our inner consciousness but also helps us to tackle the challenges of the external world. I loved reading it and am planning to incorporate the meditation process in my routine.

Apr 3, 2019

7 ways to reduce expenses through healthy eating habits

Frugal living is a concept that I grew up with. It offers various benefits - to our pockets, our mental well-being and peace and of course, to our environment. Before I talk about ways to reduce expenses, let me share my views on why we should reduce consumption.

The less we buy/own, the less time we spend in managing them, organizing them, the less money we spend in buying organizers to manage them, the less energy we spend in maintaining them. This applies to all categories of purchases we make.

The bottom line is - The fewer expenses we have, the less complicated our lifestyle becomes. 

A few weeks back, I had attended a personal finance workshop, where the financial advisors spoke about increasing your income potential and increasing your investments. But none of them spoke about reducing expenses. In fact, some of them go on record and say, "Don't think about expenses. Don't calculate how much you are spending".

I completely disagree with such viewpoints. When these financial advisors talk about retirement corpus, the key input factor is your "monthly expenses", which is then extrapolated based on inflation to compute the corpus required. If the monthly expenses are less, then the retirement corpus required would obviously be less.

Yes, income and investments are important to think about, but it is also equally important to think about expenses. A penny saved is worth a penny earned. 

In this article, my focus is on food-related expenses. Here are 10 ways by which we can reduce expenses by embracing healthy eating habits for life.
1.Avoid processed/packaged/ready-to-eat foods

Duh, what else will be my first point? ;-) A decade ago, my family's weekly shopping cart used to be loaded with muesli, instant oats, act II popcorn, lays chips, cookies, biscuits, packaged tetra pack juices etc. Over the past 5 years, we have stopped buying packaged foods completely. They give an illusion of convenience but they add up to our expenses quite a lot. Breakfast cereals alone will cause a significant dent to your monthly grocery bills. There are additional costs linked to their consumption - healthcare costs that you'd eventually be spending on because of health issues. There is a cost to the environment as well, thanks to the huge amounts of plastic that we dispose off, after eating packets of junk.

2.Avoid food wastage
This is a topic that is extremely important to me. Many of us bring home loads of vegetables and fruits during our weekly grocery shopping and dump them into our fridge. During the busy weekdays, we hardly keep track of what's in there, which eventually ends up rotting and we had to throw them out. Similarly, we buy provisions/dry groceries in bulk and don't keep track of the half-opened/not-yet-opened packs, which also results in duplicate purchases and wastage. Over the past few years, I have put in place several processes at home that helps me to prevent food wastage. 
  • Whenever I go shopping, I prepare a list beforehand and avoid impulse purchases.
  • I ensure I keep myself aware of the dry groceries and fresh produce so that I don't end up stocking the same thing twice. Shared a few ideas in this blog post.
  • Making a list of veggies and striking them down after use has now become an ingrained habit. Wrote about it in detail in this blog post.
3.Plan your weekly meals
I wrote a post on meal prep and planning a couple of years back, where I had mentioned that weekly meal planning is a tedious process. How wrong was I! It has made my weekdays so much easier. For the past three months, I have been doing weekly meal planning that has really helped me to plan and use up groceries and veggies based on the purchase date. Because of the plan, I know exactly what to cook, there is no wastage and my grocery expenses have also reduced considerably. Will do a separate post on how meal planning has helped me in detail.

4.Do-It-Yourself (DIY) basic essentials
Convenience products cost quite a bit. For eg, roasted flaxseeds cost almost double than raw flaxseeds. Spice powders are expensive when brought from the store but they cost very little when made at home. I make most of the spice powders, batters, pickles etc. I prepare and stock up coriander powder, pepper powder, jeera powder, chai masala, sambhar powder, rasam powder, idli chutney podi etc for a month. The costs of buying such packs are quite high, compared to the tiny amounts of time spent in making them. Moreover, we are aware of the ingredients used. A few more ideas shared in this post.

5.Allocate a budget for eating out
As a family, we have set a monthly budget for eating out in restaurants and we try to stick to this limit. Keeping track of our expenses helps us to know our cash flows better. So if we are already nearing the limit towards the end of the month, we stick to eating homecooked food. 

6.Choose eating-out wisely
This is in continuation to point #5.  Identify what eating out means to you. Is it convenience, change of routine, social gathering, exploring different cuisines? Since I cook all meals at home, I would prefer to take a break 1-2 meals a week, which is usually lunch on a Saturday/Sunday. We go out to run errands or plan a casual family outing. We decide on the restaurant to visit in the locality where we are headed. This way, we eat all our meals at home on weekdays and go out during weekend afternoons.

We rarely order from Swiggy/Zomato etc. We would rather eat dosa with molagapodi at home on busy days than order food that comes packed in cheap, plastic containers. 

Both my husband and I love our tea and filter coffee. We don't like to have them at expensive cafes. I'd rather have a small tumbler of filter coffee at a Darshini/Sagar/A2B than a cream-loaded latte at CCD or Starbucks (seriously overhyped, not my kinda coffee). Why do we need such large "mugs" of coffee, I wonder?

Source: TownEss

7.Embrace local produce
It is really sad to see the line up of imported fruits and veggies on supermarket shelves. They are so damn expensive and on top of that, there are hardly any nutrients left, because of high food miles and chemicals being sprayed to extend their shelf lives. I'm a big believer of eating local fruits and vegetables. Since they are grown locally, the prices of such items are lower as compared to imported veggies like zucchini, kale, baby spinach, Washington apples, California grapes etc. For eg, 1 kg of violet brinjals cost around Rs.50 (Bigbasket) and 1 kg of cowpea beans cost around Rs.70. Compare that to broccoli (Rs.170 per kg), asparagus (Rs.372 per kg) and zucchini (Rs.110 per kg). Yes, they might be healthy but the question is do we need them when we have options that are equivalent or even superior in nutrition profile? Similar to fresh produce, I prefer to buy local grains and pulses - millets (that cost Rs.80-Rs.90 per kg) compared to quinoa (Rs.500 per kg). Elaborated more on this point in my article from 2015.

Hope these points were helpful. Do share your thoughts on how you cut down on food-related expenses. Would love to hear your perspectives.






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